Red Snapper took a five year break at the end of 2002 to pursue other projects. At the time it was perceived as the end of the band, but this has proved not to be the case. On the back of a new mini album, the trio of guitarist David Ayers, bassist Ali Friend and drummer Richard Thair are back with new boy Tom Challenger on sax and clarinet. In the mid to late nineties, it looked as if they could cross over to a mainstream audience. They even had a hit single, of sorts, with the lush ballad “Image of You”. Despite that, the overuse of guest vocalists seemed to water down their muse, and they lost a bit of edge.
I was surprised that they were playing a venue as large as Oran Mor. With a pretty steep ticket price, an icy fog, the Christmas party season in full swing and the recession, I feared that the audience might be rattling around like peas in a whistle. Although far from full, there was a healthy sized and vociferously supportive crowd, and the atmosphere, despite the chill, was electric.
Red Snapper 2008 is a stripped down mean machine. Gone are the vocals. Also jettisoned tonight was nearly all of the more reflective, introspective material. What was left was a rock hard jazz quartet that swung like a funk band and rocked like a punk band. Ali Friend and Richard Thair have always been one of the best rhythm sections in the business. Tonight, they were mixed right up, so the rhythm dominated proceedings. Friend’s monstrous string bass pounded out licks that were quite phenomenally, well, bassy. (Is it me, or is his bass about twice the size of anyone else’s? The head was practically scraping the ceiling). David Ayers’ guitar licks were economical when they needed to be, but broke out every now and then into a frenzied slide assault. New lad Tom split his time between sketching out the basic melody lines, and going off in wild abandon.
They kicked up a hell of a groove. Old songs like “Space Sickness” were turned into punishing free jazz workouts. The new material showed that they may yet to have reached their peak. “Wanga Doll” was superb – a blitz of guitar noise over a crunching rhythm; and “Lagos Creepers” was a fanatastic feet-friendly funkster. On occasion, they reminded me of Rune Grammofon’s Shining. There are definitely a lot of shared characteristics between the two. Indeed, if they hailed from Trondheim or Bergen, they would probably have a lot more coverage from the press. In any event, it’s good to have them back. Even better that they seem to be in the form of their lives.
Support act Cinephile suffered from the early curfew (due to the venue being used for a club night later in the evening – a bugbear of mine that I’ve moaned about frequently in the past). There were probably only twenty people in the room when they came on. So starting with what turned out to be their best song was probably not the smartest move. I liked them, though. They are a trio of keyboards/samplers, guitar and vocals, and sound roughly like a cross between Curve and early Goldfrapp in a suitably cinematic way.